On April 22, Chen Guangcheng — the blind, self-taught human-rights activist who came to be known as “the barefoot lawyer” for his fearless advocacy for China’s rural poor, and especially for the victims of the forced sterilizations and abortions condoned under the PRC’s barbaric “one-child” policy — dramatically escaped his longstanding house arrest in Dongshigu Village. He fled to Beijing, where he sought and obtained entry into the U.S. embassy. Six days later, Chen left U.S. protection under the terms of a deal negotiated between the State Department and the Chinese government. He was apparently promised medical treatment, and given assurances that he would be free from further incarceration, reunited with his family, and protected from violent reprisals.
But less than a day after his exit, Chen seems to have learned a tragic lesson about the value of Chinese assurances — and, we fear, of U.S. diplomacy. Confined to a hospital, Chen reports that his phone calls are being intermittently blocked, that his family’s movement is being restricted, and that threats have been made against his wife. Having realized that the deal he cut to remain in China was no deal at all, Chen has requested political asylum in the United States, going so far as to directly appeal to the joint Executive-Congressional Commission on China on Capitol Hill, where he expressed via speakerphone his concern for the safety of his mother and brothers, and his hope to “rest” in the United States after years of captivity. The State Department, for its part, is apparently exploring Chen’s “options.” Secretary Clinton reports as “progress” the vague allowance from Chinese leadership that Chen will be permitted to apply to “study abroad.” Whether his “application” will prove successful, and whether his family can join him, very much remains to be seen: The situation is fluid, with rumors of an additional “breakthrough” in negotiations floating through the media.
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